(Bangalore, Karnataka, India)
Sheela wore clean dress only on Sundays when she attended church prayers. Being a domestic help she slogged the entire day in different houses to meet both ends meet. She was forced to forgo so many comforts of life which other ladies of her neighbourhood enjoyed.
Her husband, Joseph was a liability to the family who spent all his earnings on liquors. Though a painter by profession, Joseph never had a permanent job and the entire burden of running the house was passed on to Sheela. She was not living a life committed to ideas and concepts. Not a single day passed without physical abuses from her husband,who was captured in a world of absurdities bringing only sorrows to the family. Silently suffering his tortures she kept her feelings at bay. Yet her daughter's unblemished love acted as a stimulant to keep her active. Elsie was a smart girl studying in Fourth standard.She had a flair for learning things fast.Her smartness in studies coupled with a pleasant demeanor attracted not only the teachers but also the neighbours.Her name was always in the forefront,be it in studies or sports. Sheela could not but rejoice at her daughter's mirth,which helped establish fresh hopes on her daughter.
Ramachandran,one of the oldest resident of Ananda colony, was a popular figure who devoted his spare time for social service. His wife,Vasantha visited her son in USA every year,while Ramachandran stayed back at home since he was disinterested in travel. He was managing all alone while Sheela helped in domestic chores. There was absolutely no complaints about Sheela. Unfortunately some theft happened in that house. As usual Sheela reached Ramachandran's house. She was taken aback to find few people inside the house seriously discussing about the missing items. The matter had already been reported to the police. Sheela went amok,an unknown pain slashed her heart. She felt as if all the eyes for focused on her. When police arrived she heard somebody whispering her name.She pleaded with every one around about her innocence.But she was taken to the police station for interrogation and let off after taking the statements. Sheela literally broke down unable to digest the truth. Loosing credibility was unthinkable for her but she had already become a suspect. She longed for a support system which was beyond her reach. In that state of helplessness she hated the cruel world, the threshold of sorrows.
For one week Sheela signed off from her work, enduring the insult all alone. The following afternoon her neighbour broke the news that Ramachandran got back his missing gold and cash from his house itself. Sheela knew pretty well
that nobody would listen to a maid's defensive arguments. She quietly quit that house and resumed other works.She was slowly trying to forget that incident and decided against basking in the past.
December came, Christmas was fast approaching. Sheela purchased new dresses and crackers for celebration. She had always loved to share moments of happiness with her daughter. Sheela received money as Christmas gift from all her houses.
On a Sunday morning, after attending the church, Sheela cleaned her house for her small celebration. After lunch, Joseph as usual boozed and fell asleep. Elsie was seen playing inside the house. Sheela got ready to work in one of her houses to help madam since she had guests.
After finishing the work Sheela walked swiftly. The sky was cloudy and there were chances for heavy rain. She was afraid that her washed clothes hung out side might get wet. She further increased her pace and reached home.Bad luck never left her. She could see her neighbours standing inside through the opened door.She sensed some thing amiss and rushed inside. Baffled Sheela saw her daughter lying with body full of burns,while Joseph was lying on the other side of the room oblivious of what had happened.While playing with the crackers Elsie's dress caught fire. Though her screams brought neighbour's notice, it was too late.Water was poured on Elsie's body to douse the fire and the poor girl fell unconscious. Elsie got admitted in the nearby nursing home. Doctors examined her and diagnosed as third degree burns. She was later shifted to govt hospital. The lethargic attitude,the insanitary condition of the hospital worsened Elsie's condition. After three days she got discharged from the hospital and the following day she breathed her last.
Sheela never spoke a word,rather became speechless.The tragic incident devastated her,waves of grief lashing mercilessly. Unable to pay heed to consolations she felt herself sinking in depression. Nobody knew whether Joseph ever repented for his irresponsibility. His callousness and betrayal maddened her. In a moment of rage she looked at him,grabbed a broom from the kitchen and rained beatings on him.Her mother snatched the broom and made her sit. Sheela looked terribly exhausted with out proper food. Weak in mind and body she got drowned in slumber and her saga of longing ended for ever.
Early morning, Sheela woke up from her sleep. With a fractured mind,the forlorn mother saw the dawning of the light. Her eyes scanned the full room, every thing was looking intact except for her daughter's absence. Tears rolled down to her cheeks. Suddently she saw a spark. Yes,it was her daughter's spirit moving inside the room. ****